What is a smart city? Three examples

smart cities

‘Smart city’ is becoming a buzzword faster and faster. Many people talk about it, but what makes a city ‘smart’? What activities have to be undertaken to fall under the umbrella of smart city initiatives? The best way is to explain this by giving examples. See below some examples of Singapore, Dubai and Barcelona. And how smart is your city?

Cities are becoming smarter by the year. With the enormous increase of new and better technologies, cities have more possibilities to use this in their operations. Some area’s in which cities can benefit from technology are:

  • Public Transportation
  • IT-connectivity
  • Water Management
  • Power Supply
  • Sanitation
  • Waste management
  • Urban mobility
  • E-governance
  • Citizen participation

Big Data, driver of smart cities

One driver of smart cities is Big Data. Technology creates enormous loads of data for cities. Cities already always did have lots of data, but these were mostly stored in silo’s, with few interconnections. Nowadays, data is processed into city dashboards, to be used in all kinds of ways.

The graphic below nicely sums up the impact big data can have in building smart cities. (Source)

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is reaching a tipping point that will make it a sustainable paradigm for practical applications that can change the future of individuals, enterprises, and the public sector.”

At the regional or city level, opportunities are likely to cover things such as improved building management, more efficient traffic flow, clever ways to provision basic services (for example, “street lighting as a service,” which can be managed and consumed to reflect more accurately changing patterns of need and demand), water or waste management, and policing.

At a state level, the Internet of Everything holds particular promise in areas like road infrastructure (better monitoring of pavement and bridge conditions by using intelligent sensors and new “big data” computing capabilities), highway traffic management, healthcare, education, and agriculture.

CNBC has put together a nice video with examples of the smart cities Singapore, Dubai and Barcelona. See video below. (Source)

Example: Singapore

Singapore wants to be frontrunner in smart city initiatives, wanting to be the world’s first Smart Nation. They put the world’s most extensive efforts to collect data on daily living. Some of them might raise some discussion about privacy issues, but that will be a topic for another article.

They are putting it into extreme with initiatives like:

  • Deploying systems that can tell when people are smoking in prohibited places.
  • Systems that can tell when people are littering from high rise buildings
  • Sensors that can monitor crowd density and the movement of registered cars.

Singapores Smart Nation Programme was launched in 2014. All data that is collected is fed into their ‘Virtual Singapore‘ dashboard, a platform that gives the government acces to information into how the city is functioning in realtime. But on this platform they can also simulate situations which are not happening at all, but might happen in the future.

“smartness” is not a measure of how advanced or complex the technology being adopted is, but how well a society uses technology to solve its problems and address existential challenges. (Singapore Smart Nation)


Another frontrunner in smart city initiatives is Dubai. They have rolled out 50 smart services from 220 government entities, part of the governments ‘Smart Dubai Initiative‘.

Dubai is making life of it’s citizens easier by having an app that provides all kind of services like:

  • Pay a speeding ticket through vehicle registration system
  • Find an ATM
  • Pay electricity bill
  • Report a violation
  • Track visa status
  • Track packages
  • Get a taxi


Barcelona is saving billions of dollar per year by installing smart energy systems like:

  • Smart streetlights, lighting that adapts to the activity on the street.
  • Parking sensors providing real time information on an app where to find vacant parking spaces.
  • Garbage sensors and automated waste collection.

It is estimated that, by 2021, cities will save 19 billion dollars. On the other side, cities need to invest heavily for their smart city initiatives. But call that investment which will pay off. It is estimated that he global smart cities market will attract for software alone 15 billion dollars by 2021. That is why companies like Microsoft and Cisco are keen on getting a piece op the pie.

For a visual explanation of the above information, CNBC’s Uptin Saiidi looks at these three cities infusing technology into every part of its operations.

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But to answer the question in the title, a good explanation can be found into that one of Singapores smart nation: “smartness” is not a measure of how advanced or complex the technology being adopted is, but how well a society uses technology to solve its problems and address existential challenges. 


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